By Max Jones at Carrow Road
Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by a well-organised Norwich City side at Carrow Road on Sunday afternoon.
The Canaries had proven difficult for Arsene Wenger’s side to break down throughout a tense first half but, when Arsenal did take the lead, the hosts had their own defence to blame.
John Ruddy raced out to meet a stray through ball but could only slice his clearance as far as Graham Dorrans. Alexis dispossessed the midfielder and slid through Mesut Ozil, who gratefully chipped over the onrushing goalkeeper and into the far corner.
Norwich hit straight back, though, after good work from Robbie Brady. The Republic of Ireland international had been a thorn in Arsenal’s side throughout the first half and, after cutting in from the left-hand side, found Lewis Grabban who slotted past Petr Cech.
The Canaries could have gone into the break in front but Wes Hoolahan, stood unmarked in the six-yard box, lashed his volley well over the crossbar on the stroke of half-time.
Arsenal flew out after the break and Ozil had the chance to restore their lead soon after the restart. Olivier Giroud had flicked Alexis’ cross towards the back post but the German could not find the final touch.
Cech then produced another brilliant reaction save and arguably one of his best during his debut season in red, hurling himself across goal to push away Ryan Bennett’s header, which had taken a wicked deflection off Gabriel.
Having lost Laurent Koscielny and Alexis to injuries, the Gunners had to dig in to contain a late onslaught on their penalty area, securing an important point to keep their title challenge very much alive.
SETTING THE SCENE
Much of the pre-match build-up had been dominated by whether Aaron Ramsey would be reinstated to the starting lineup following his return from injury in Tuesday’s comfortable win against Dinamo Zagreb.
With Francis Coquelin sidelined, there was a suggestion in Thursday’s press conference that Ramsey would partner Santi Cazorla in central midfield, but instead the Wales international resumed his role on the right-hand side hoping to score in his third consecutive Premier League game against Norwich.
That change of course saw Joel Campbell drop to the bench alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had been absent since the defeat at Sheffield United, and promising teenager Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Kieran Gibbs missed out with a slight calf strain.
Arsenal went into the game knowing that three points would see them leapfrog Manchester United and Leicester City into second place following Saturday’s draw at King Power Stadium, but Norwich posed a tricky obstacle.
Despite only winning one of their previous eight Premier League games, the Canaries had already made life difficult for Manchester City and Chelsea this season, losing both matches by only a one-goal margin, and Alex Neil would set his side up to frustrate Arsenal in a similar fashion.
Despite starting the game on the bench, Nathan Redmond in particular would require special attention. Singled out by Wenger before kick-off as “a top individual talent”, the England Under-21 midfielder was Norwich’s leading scorer and a vital part of Neil’s counter-attacking game plan.
Arsenal dominated possession from the start, patiently probing in the hosts’ half before carving out their first chance. Alexis twisted on the edge of the box but dragged his low drive just wide of the bottom corner.
The Gunners were growing in confidence, but then Wenger was forced into his first change after 11 minutes when Koscielny went down clutching his side under pressure from Grabban. The France defender limped off and was replaced by Gabriel.
Arsenal’s reshuffle didn’t have too much affect on their fluidity, though, as Ozil was next to threaten the deadlock. Nacho Monreal broke forward on the left-hand side and squared to the Germany playmaker, whose low strike had to be cleared off the line by Sebastian Bassong.
The visitors were finding plenty of joy down the left and Monreal was at the heart of their next chance. Ozil clipped a perfectly-weighted ball over the top to the Spain international who crossed for Olivier Giroud, but the striker could only flick it wide.
Alex Neil’s side had looked well disciplined defensively for the first 30 minutes but had only themselves to blame for the opening goal. Alexis intercepted Ruddy’s scuffed clearance and fed Ozil who delicately chipped over the goalkeeper as he raced into the box.
But Norwich hit straight back. Brady had caused Hector Bellerin problems throughout the first half and, after drifting inside from the left, the Republic of Ireland international picked out Grabban, who swept in from close range.
The Canaries then had the chance to turn the tie on its head going into the break, but Hoolahan volleyed Wisdom’s dangerous cross well over from close range.
Arsenal started the second half with the same intensity that they had shown in the first, and Ozil was unlucky not to double his tally for the afternoon. Giroud flicked on a near-post cross but the German was unable to convert under pressure from Martin Olsson.
Again, the Gunners looked to be finding their flow only for it to be disrupted by a forced substitution when Alexis required treatment following a collision with Bennett on the hour mark. Joel Campbell came on in his place.
Undeterred, Wenger’s side continued to attack and Bellerin soon had Ruddy scrambling towards his near post, but the 20-year-old’s fierce half-volley flew into the side netting.
Norwich countered and Cech was called into action moments later. Bennett’s header deflected off Gabriel on its way to goal and looked certain to find the far corner but Cech, at full stretch, readjusted well to throw himself at the ball and tip it wide.
The hosts boasted the second-best set-piece conversion record in the league and, from the resulting corner, it was clear to see why. Again, Bennett climbed to head Hoolahan’s deep corner back across goal but Howson somehow hooked over from 10 yards out.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced with 20 minutes to play, so too was Redmond, and it was the Norwich man who almost made the telling contrition from the bench. Breaking forward from deep, the England Under-21 forward crossed to Grabban but Gabriel was well placed to clear from under his own crossbar at the end of a tough afternoon for the Gunners.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
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